Tag Archives: Jaffna

The Recent Incidence of Rape in Pungudutivu, Jaffna, Sri Lanka


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The incidents that happened over the last twelve days in Jaffna have been given ethnic and political hues by the media in Sri Lanka.

Pungudutivu (Tamil: புங்குடுதீவு) is an islet composed of a few villages, west of the Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka.  The Dutch colonial rulers named the islet as “Middleburg” during their occupation of Ceylon.

In 1990, when Pungudutivu came under the control of the LTTE, the rich and the educated inhabitants left the islet for safety and greener pastures. Some shifted to Colombo while others left Sri Lanka.

After the Government forces recaptured Pungudutivu from the LTTE, about one third of its former inhabitants returned to the islet. Many found their abodes in a dilapidated state. As of now, this islet is a paradise for smugglers of Sri Lanka and South India. Many of them indulge in the lucrative trafficking of heroin.

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17-year-old Vidhya, the rape victim (Source: lankaenews.com)
17-year-old Vidhya, the rape victim (Source: lankaenews.com)

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On May 13, 2015, Sivayoganathan Vidhya, a 17-year-old Advance Level student of Pungudutivu Maha Vidyalayam did not return home after school. The worried family members contacted her school and her friends. They learned that Vidhya had not attended school that day.

The family members went to the police station to lodge a complaint. The police told the family to search for the girl on their own.  A policeman in a nonchalant manner blurted out a pithy stock and irresponsible rejoinder, “Don’t worry. She must have eloped with her lover. She will return in a few days.

The following morning, Vidhya’s brother went out searching for her. He followed the route she takes from school to her home. He found one of his sister’s slippers. From there, he followed the trail to a remote jungle area and found the mutilated corpse of his sister. It was a gruesome sight – her hands tied above her head with her school tie, her legs spread apart and tied to two trees, her mouth gagged with a piece of cloth.

Vidhya’s brother shouted and soon some residents gathered at the scene. Police arrived and sent the teenage girl’s corpse for postmortem examination.

According to the police reports, sometime ago, S. Saraswathi, the mother of the rape victim had witnessed a robbery committed in a doctor’s house by three brothers. After that, she had appeared at the courts and testified against them. Suspecting that they might have committed the sordid crime to avenge her, the police arrested the three brothers as suspects.

Based on the statements of the three brothers, the police arrested five others on the following day. One of them worked in the Pradeshiya Sabha office in the area and the other four employed in Colombo.

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Five of the 9 rapists (Source: 247latestnews.com)
Five of the 9 rapists (Source: 247latestnews.com)

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On the day of the incident, the five suspects had arrived in Pungudutivu from Colombo. After the gang rape and murder of Vidhya, they left for Colombo. They came again to Pungudutivu and attended Vidhya’s funeral. After the funeral, before they could return to Colombo the police arrested them.

The nine apprehended suspects revealed that a person named Mahalingam Sivakumar alias Kumar was the leader of their gang that raped, tortured and murdered the teenager. Sivakumar, a resident of Pungudutivu, a heroin baron and one who engages in other illegal activities is a Swiss national of Sri Lankan Tamil origin. He had recently returned to Sri Lanka from Switzerland.

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Mahalingam Sivakumar, the Pungudutheevu rapist. (Source: lankaenews.com)
Mahalingam Sivakumar, the Pungudutheevu rapist. (Source: lankaenews.com)

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That night, residents of Pungudutivu seized Mahalingam Sivakumar and tied him to a pillar. After venting their rage by humiliating him, they handed him over to the police. Hitherto, the police had not received any complaints against Mahalingam Sivakumar.

The deputy minister of women’s affairs for the area intervened for the release of Mahalingam Sivakumar.

According to the media, Dr. V.T. Tamilmaran, the Dean of the faculty of law at the Colombo University, is a relative of Mahalingam Sivakumar. Tamilmaran is one of those among the educated who left Pungudutivu earlier. Now, he aspires to contest the Pungudutivu electorate at the next election.

The website lankanews.com reports that that according to information seeping from within the police itself, and according to stories doing the rounds across the whole of the north, Dr. Tamilmaran approached his friend, the senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe in charge of the North. He told the DIG that Mahalingam had returned only recently to Sri Lanka from Switzerland. He stressed that Mahalingam Sivakumar was innocent. Some sources say that the senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe had reportedly taken a bribe of four million rupees to release Mahalingam Sivakumar, the prime suspect.

Some media sources say that Mahalingam Sivakumar, the prime suspect was set free by the police.

Some other media sources say that on the instructions of the senior DIG Lalith Jayasinghe, arrangements were made for Sivakumar to escape while taking him to the hospital for treatment for the wounds he had incurred when the residents of Pungudutivu seized and humiliated him. Sivakumar then fled to Colombo.

The people of the North were shocked, provoked, furious and enraged over the escape of the prime suspect even after the residents of Pungudtivu helped the police by apprehending and entrusting him to their custody.

Mahalingam Sivakumar rented a room in a lodge in Wellawatte, Colombo. The lodge owner noticing the bruises on Sivakumar’s body informed the Wellawatte police. So, on May 19, 2015, the police arrested Sivakumar the second time inadvertently and not through efforts initiated by them. If the lodge owner had not informed the police, the rapist-murderer would have escaped from Sri Lanka.

Some media reported that on May 19, 2015, the residents who were in an explosive and justifiable rage, held Dr. Tamilmaran, his London-based daughter who is in Sri Lanka on a holiday, and a few others as captives. They demanded that the police should apprehend the criminal Mahalingam Sivakumar immediately. About five and half hours later, the police informed the people that Sivakumar was in the custody of the Wellewatte police. Though the people did not trust the information, they nevertheless released Dr. Tamilmaran and others.

If we look at the other side of the story, Dr. V.T. Tamilmaran, told Ceylon Today that Pungudutivu  being his hometown, he had gone there to assess the situation over the brutal killing of Vidhya. He said:

“I am very much aware about the misconduct of one of the 10 suspects who returned from Switzerland. The suspect M. Kumar visited Pungudutivu on and off, and whenever he arrived there he created big problems to the people in the area. In fact I sought Police assistance in arresting the suspect. However, the guy had managed to escape while he was in the Police custody.”

Dr. Tamilmaran also added that when he attended a meeting on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, over the incident in Pungudutivu there were some men who were under the influence of liquor shouting in abusive language against him. He said that certain political elements were behind tarnishing his image following the recent speculation of his entry into politics. He also said that he was much disturbed over the incident in his village Pungudutivu , which had produced several eminent personalities in the field of education, and many leading businessmen in the country hailed from his village.

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Protesting students  (Source - Naangal Yaalpaanam on Facebook)
Protesting students (Source: Naangal Yaalpaanam on Facebook)

The news of the sordid crime spread among the people of the north like wildfire.

Students, teachers and staff of the nine schools in Poonguditheevu, the staff of the Department of Education, and the general public from all walks of life gathered on the grounds of the Maha Vidyalaya. There they staged a protest against the rape and killing of the 17-year-old student.

On May 21, 2015, the business community in the North staged a hartal to protest against the alleged rape and killing of the teenager. All shops in the North remained closed and people stayed away from their workplaces.

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Protesters gathered around the court house. (Source - icaruswept.com)
Protesters gathered around the court house. (Source – icaruswept.com)

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Protesters gathered  in the vicinity of the  Magistrate Court and the Police Station in Jaffna.

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The 8 arrested suspects brought to court (Source: 247latestnews.com)
The 8 arrested suspects brought to court (Source: 247latestnews.com)

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Out of anger and hate, people protested. Fearing the Police would let the suspects off the hook, the violent mob attempted to harm the eight arrested suspects while the police escorted them. The mob also attacked the police personnel who tried to save suspects from being assaulted.

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The protesters pelted the court premises with stones. . (Source: bbc.com)
The protesters pelted the court premises with stones. . (Source: bbc.com)

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When the protesters found that the main suspect Mahalingam Sivakumar was not brought to the  court, the mob turned restive and pelted the court premises with stones.

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Police fire tear gas shells to disperse Jaffna mob (Source - icaruswept.com)
Police fire teargas shells to disperse Jaffna mob (Source – icaruswept.com)

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The police responded by firing tear gas shells to disperse Jaffna mob. Around 130 suspects were remanded on charges of unlawful assembly and stoning the Jaffna Courts Complex.

On May 22, 2015, the Jaffna court issued an order banning all demonstrations in Jaffna. The order was issued to Janatha Balaya Organisation, Jaffna Women’s organization and Northern Provincial Councillor Anandi Shashidharan.

The media as usual focussed on the public protests rather than focussing on the reason behind it, namely rape.

 Mahalingam Sivarkumar, the main suspect  (Source: Naangal Yaalpaanam/Facebook))
Mahalingam Sivarkumar, the main suspect . (Source: Naangal Yaalpaanam/Facebook))

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There are suggestions that Mahalingam Sivakumar, the main suspect in the rape cum murder case, is well-connected as can be seen in the following photographs that I came across on Naangal Yaalpanam/Facebook.

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One of the rapists with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Source: icaruswept.com)
One of the rapists with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. (Source: icaruswept.com)

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The above photo circulated in the media of Mahalingam Sivakumar, posing with former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse is morphed for political gains. In the original photograph, it was ‘Swiss Ranjan’ an opponent of the LTTE, now residing in Switzerland.

There is always a blessing that springs out of any adversity. Sri Lankans are now reacting to this incident not as Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims, Burghers, or Malays, but as one people of a country unified in its disgust and horror on learning about the raping of the 17-year-old Tamil maiden.

On Friday, May 22, 2015, Wijedasa Rajapakshe, incumbent Minister of Justice shamed a racist media person in public by retorting:

… we’re not Tamil, Muslim or Sinhala, but simply human.”

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 7 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Leaving behind his home, his family, the comfort of his familiar surroundings, he responded to the call to go forth, to speak of Christ wherever he was led. Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility. This is also the way for the followers of Jesus today.
– Pope Francis in his homily at the canonization of Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka’s first saint on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

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Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com
Image source: blejosephvaz.wix.com

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The kingdom of Kandy comprised the interior of the island of Sri Lanka. The Dutch occupied the western coastal region with three administrative command posts in Jaffnapattinam, Colombo and Galle.

In the northeast, the island had two harbours, Trincomalee and Batticaloa, which the Dutch occupied on behalf of the king of Kandy. In fact, the king did not want the presence of the Dutch there. Nevertheless, the Dutch manned the two harbour towns to prevent any other foreign nation communicating with the king.

Puttalam was the only commercial harbour on the island that was free from Dutch control. It was under the direct control of the king of Kandy. Yet, Puttalam was constantly a bone of contention between the kingdom of Kandy and the Dutch colonialists.

In Puttalam too, Joseph Vaz had no problem of communication with the local people because most of them were conversant in Portuguese Creole.

Ceylon Portuguese Creole

When the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka in the early 16th century and conquered the coastal area they used a pidginized version of Portuguese – the Ceylon Portuguese Creole, for communication with the natives. By the early 17th Century, the Ceylon Portuguese Creole was in use in the Portuguese controlled littoral. It was also known in the kingdom of Kandy.

Due to the dearth of women, the Portuguese soldiers took Tamil and Sinhalese women as wives. From this union, sprang the “Portuguese Burgher” population of Sri Lanka, which soon adopted the Portuguese Pidgin as their language, which eventually Creolized. When the Dutch evicted the Portuguese in the 17th century, history repeated. The Dutch soldiers took local wives. In contrast to the time of the Portuguese, there was a semi-European nubile population available on the island, and the Dutch mainly married Portuguese Burgher women. This kind of union formed the base for the “Dutch Burgher” community.

The Dutch continued to use Creole Portuguese so that this language continued to thrive until well into the British period, which started in 1798. During the British period, Creole Portuguese was still used by the Wesleyan missionaries, who also produced some literature in the language, but it started to decline when the community switched to English or emigrated to Australia and South Africa.

Catholics in Puttalam

There were a little over one thousand Catholics in the town of Puttalam and in the villages surrounding the harbour. There was a Church constructed by the Portuguese Jesuits. The Catholics of the Puttalam region had been deprived of priests and the sacraments for almost fifty years  from the time the fort at Negombo fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1640.

In Puttalam, most of the Catholics had received baptism, but had not participated in the holy sacrifice of the Mass at any time in their life. So, they welcomed Joseph Vaz in their midst.

Unlike Jaffna, in Puttalam Joseph Vaz administered the sacraments openly without fear.  The Catholics of the surrounding villages too profited spiritually by his presence in Puttalam.

On August 15, 1690 Vaz wrote a letter to the Prefect of the Oratory in Goa about his ministry in Putalam.

Joseph Vaz often visited the villages of the Kalpitiya peninsula, which consists of 14 serenely beautiful islands. Most of the people of Kalpitiya are fishermen.

He also visited the interior villages in the district of Puttalam, inhabited by Mukkuvars and Paravars such as Manattivu, Tetapola, Manpuri.

A village called Maha Galgamuwa

On the banks of the Maha Galgamuwa tank, about 37 miles (60 km) from Puttalam via Miyellewa, was a Catholic settlement. In 1667, when the Dutch captured the coastal belt of Kalpitiya, the Catholics there feared persecution and decided to seek a place of safety to practice their faith. King Rajasinghe II of Kandy provided the freedom of worship to Catholics in his kingdom. Some Catholics from Kalpitiya, belonging to the ‘Mukkuwa‘ Community and spoke Tamil, left their villages and homes, and settled down in a small jungle area in Maha Galgamuwa close to the tank which came under the protection of the King of Kandy. The place they settled down in Maha Galgamu, is now known as Joseph-Vaz-Puram in Tamil and Juse Vaz Pura in Sinhalese. Their kinsmen still live in Puttalam and the Kalpitiya peninsula.

Route from Puttalam to Galgamuwa (Google maps)
Route from Puttalam to Galgamuwa (Google maps)

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The settlers constructed a church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua.

Joseph Vaz often visited this vibrant Catholic community in Maha Galgamuwa. On one occasion, the villagers complained to him about their lives and crops threatened by wild animals, especially the wild elephants and lived in constant fear of snakes. So, Vaz blessed a wooden cross made of two unpolished pieces of ebony wedged together and planted it at the entrance to the village to safeguard the village from wild elephants and venomous snakes.

The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Maha Galgamuwa

The inhabitants Maha Galgamuwa today are mostly Catholic. There is a large,  400-years-old Palu tree at the Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa. According to the locals, it is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers. Now, this ancient Palu tree, supported by concrete columns, is under the protection of the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

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The Palu tree at Maha Galgamuwa. It is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers.  (Source: ceylontoday.lk)
The Palu tree at Maha Galgamuwa. It is under the shade of this tree that Joseph Vaz ministered to the villagers. (Source: ceylontoday.lk)

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The locals consider the ground under the shade of the Palu tree sacred. Also, they believe that those bitten by snakes survive after drinking water mixed with the sand. The villagers also use the sand in their homes as protection against wild animals. The elephants still come to the village at night, wading along the banks of the Maha Galgamuwa tank, but they do not harm the village.

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A video grab of the Cross planted by Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa .
A video grab of the Cross planted by Joseph Vaz at Juse Vaz Pura, Maha Galgamuwa .

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The villagers have treasured the cross up to this day. Sadly, the candles lit to it by the faithful over the centuries have partly burnt the cross. Now the cross is enshrined in an altar beside the Palu tree.

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The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)
The Shrine of Saint Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)

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The shrine also has a separate altar for the wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India. It is enshrined between life-size statues Saint Joseph Vaz and Saint Francis Xavier.

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The wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India, presently placed at Galgamuwa Church, in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)
The wooden Cross that Saint Joseph Vaz brought from India, presently placed at Galgamuwa Church, in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Sri Lanka. (Source: archdioceseofcolombo.com)

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The Catholics of the Kurunegala diocese celebrate the Annual Feast of Blessed Joseph Vaz at Galgamuwa Shrine on a grand scale.

Joseph Vaz visits the villages of Sath Korales

In 1597, after taking over the Kotte kingdom, the Portuguese divided the regions under their rule into four administrative divisions: Matara, Sabaragamuwa, sathara korale and sath korale.

Joseph Vaz had contact with the villages of Sath Korale, the seven districts lying between the coast of Puttalam and Kammala where the command of Colombo commenced. There were more Catholics in these villages than in Puttalam, but they were without a priest after the fall of Negombo into the hands of the Dutch in 1640.

Ten years later, around 1650, two Jesuits, tried to help the Catholics in secret from Jaffna. But the Dutch apprehended them. One of the priests fled and the other was imprisoned. The Dutch then passed strong legislation banishing all Catholic priests, especially the Jesuits from entering the island.

Joseph Vaz was the first priest to have contacted these Catholics after 40 years. He understood their sad plight and furtively administered the sacraments.

Joseph Vaz visits Madhu
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar district of Sri Lanka.  (Source: Lakpura Travels)
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine in Mannar district of Sri Lanka. (Source: Lakpura Travels)

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During the first half of the 16th century, the Portuguese missionaries from India, especially under the authority of Saint Francis Xavier brought Roman Catholicism to the Kingdom of Jaffna. Catholicism soon spread southward in the coastal regions.

Manthai, historically known as Maanthottam in Tamil (“Garden of the Deer”) is a coastal town in the Mannar district of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. It is about 9 miles (14 km) from Mannar. In the ancient days, there was a harbour in Manthai, but it is now buried in the sand.

Madhu, then a small hamlet, in the Mannar district is 18 miles (29 km) from Manthai as the crow flies.

In 1670, to escape the persecution of the Catholics by the Dutch, 20 families from Manthai came over to Madhu. They brought along with them the statue of Mary installed in their church. About the same time, around 700 Catholics migrated from Jaffna peninsula into the Wanni forests. After these two communities met in the jungles, they built a shrine in the forest for Mary’s statue.

In the late 17th century, Joseph Vaz, and later the Oratorian priests who came from Goa expanded the small shrine in the forest into a Church.

In a corner, inside the present Madhu Church is a pit containing the blessed soil of Madhu, known in Tamil as “Madu mannmann” (Tamil: மடு மண்) which the faithful take home. It is believed that applying the soil on the affected areas of the body will cure the maladies of the afflicted. It is held that when Joseph Vaz arrived first came to that location he planted a cross about 100 metres away from the church and blessed the soil. The place is known in Tamil as metres away from the church and blessed the soil. The place is known in Tamil as Siluvai Sumantha Veli (Tamil: சிலுவை சுமந்த வெளி)  and it is from here that the soil is taken and placed in the pit.

Joseph Vaz leaves Puttalam for Kandy

In 1687, Pascoal da Costa Jeremias to whom Joseph Vaz relinquished his duties of Superior of the Goan Oratory died. Father Custodio Leitão took charge as the new Superior.

Many businessmen from the Kingdom of Kandy frequented the Puttalam port. A Catholic businessman of Portuguese descent named Antonio Sottomayor, met Joseph Vaz. He said that there were many Catholics in the Kingdom of Kandy and they wanted a priest to minister to them. Sottomayor further said that he had a relative in the court of Kandy and through his influence he could obtain the necessary permission for Vaz to enter the Kingdom.

At that time, Joseph Vaz met a Portuguese priest named João de Braganza. He had entered Puttalam directly from India and was ministering to the Mukkuva community in and around Puttalam. Vaz consulted Braganza about going to Kandy. He wanted Braganza to explore the possibilities of securing an entry into Kandy for him. When Braganza showed interest on going himself to the Kingdom of Kandy, Vaz gave in to his wishes. Unfortunately, Braganza fell ill and returned to Goa.

After Braganza’s departure, Vaz wrote a letter on August 15, 1690 to the Prefect of the Oratory in Goa asking him whether he should continue his apostolate in Ceylon or return to Goa. In that letter, he mentioned Father Braganza:

“… in case any letter or order is to be sent, it should be done in a way Fr. Joao de Braganza will tell and he will give other particulars of this mission”.

In 1691, after four years of missionary work Joseph Vaz was almost captured by the Dutch. He decided to go to Kandy to avoid the vigilant Dutch from Colombo and to take refuge there.

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Next → Part  8:  The Apostle of Sri Lanka Arrested at Weuda on the Way to Kandy

← Previous: Part 6:  The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Blessed Joseph Vaz was our beloved Apostle. In many ways, he was a pioneer in the history of our country and the Christian faith. In fact, after Dutch persecution, which lasted 150 years, there would be no priest on the island without him.
– Bishop Vianny Fernando, President of National Joseph Vaz Secretariat.

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Entrance of Jaffna Fort built in 1618, by Portuguese Philip de Olivera (Photo: thehistoryhub.com)
Entrance of Jaffna Fort built in 1618, by Portuguese Philip de Olivera (Photo: thehistoryhub.com)

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In 1591, André Furtado de Mendonça led the second Portuguese expedition to the Jaffna kingdom. The capital of the Jaffna Kingdom, also known as the Kingdom of the Aryacakravarti was Nallur. During that expedition, the King of Jaffna, Puviraja Pandaram (Tamil: புவிராஜ பண்டாரம்) was killed.

The Portuguese then installed the dead king’s son Ethirmanna Cinkam (Tamil: எதிர்மன்னசிங்கம்) as the King of the Jaffna kingdom. This arrangement gave the Catholic missionaries freedom to propagate the Christian faith. However, the incumbent king, resisted the missionary activities. In 1595, the King of Portugal ordered to remove him from the throne. But colonial authorities in Goa did not oblige as Ethirimanna Cinkam was not overly disruptive to their colonial interests.

In 1617, Cankili II (Tamil: சங்கிலி குமாரன்) a tyrant, came to the throne after a bloody massacre of the royal princess and the regent Arasakesari. The Portuguese colonists in Colombo rejected his regency. He then invited military forces from Thanjavur Nayaks and Malabari Corsairs to help him fight the Portuguese.

In 1618, Phillippe de Oliveira built the Portuguese Fort in Jaffna.

Phillipe de Oliveira moved the center of political and military control from Nallur to Jaffnapatao (Jaffnapattinam).

The subsequent rule by the Portuguese deployed forced conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism. Most people fled the core areas of the former Jaffna kingdom due to excessive taxation.forced conversion of the population to Roman Catholicism.

After a three-month siege, the Portuguese lost their last stronghold in Ceylon, Fort of Our Lady of Miracles (Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora dos Milagres de Jafanapatão) to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) on June 24, 1658 . With the fall of Fort at Jaffnapattinam, the Dutch took Portuguese as prisoners of war and expelled all Portuguese from Ceylon.

Joseph Vaz in Jaffnapattinam

Joseph Vaz presumed that like in Mannar, there ought to be Catholics in  Jaffnapattinam too. Cured of dysentery, Vaz wanted to find the Catholics in  Jaffnapattinam and begin his mission. So, he wore a rosary around his neck and started begging for food, all the while observing and studying the reactions of the natives. He was fully aware that if the Dutch or any native Calvinist knew that he was a Catholic he would be subjected to ill-treatment, and death would soon follow.

Dom Pedro of  Jaffnapattinam

One family in particular treated him well and he guessed that they were Christians. One day he asked the head of that family, whether he would like to see a priest and receive the sacraments. The man froze. The next time Vaz went to beg at that house, the man took him to the house one of his friends, a young man named Dom Pedro.

Dom Pedro belonged to the Tamil Vellalar caste, a dominant group of agricultural landlords who migrated from the neighbouring Southern Tamil kingdoms in India since the 13th century. He was rich and his family members, all Catholics, were held in esteem by the Tamils of Jaffna.

In the hope of getting an appointment to a high Government position under the Dutch, he had renounced the Catholic Faith and had become a Calvinist. However, a few years later, Emmanuel de Silva, an old friend of his father, made him realize the enormity of his defection from the Catholic faith. Troubled by his apostasy, Dom Pedro disavowed Calvinism. He did severe penance and reconciled with the Catholic Church.

Joseph Vaz then understood through his friend that though Dom Pedro was on good terms with the Dutch, he was, in fact, a fervent Catholic, but behaved as if he were not, to hoodwink the Dutch.

After the preliminary introductions, Vaz revealed his identity to them. He showed his credentials as Vicar Forane of Kanara, which he had conscientiously brought with him.

The apostleship of Joseph Vaz began that night when he celebrated the first Mass in Jaffna. The Catholics were happy because for more than 30 years they did not have the privilege to attend Mass. The young members of the community had never seen a priest. They had been baptized and instructed in the Catholic Faith by their parents.

From then on the Catholics of Jaffnapattinam met in Dom Pedro’s house in secret for some time. Dom Pedro and his friends told Vaz that  Jaffnapattinam being the headquarters of the Dutch command in the north of Ceylon, it was dangerous for him to remain there. They advised him to go to Sillalai, a hamlet ten miles away from Jaffna.

Joseph Vaz in  Sillalai

Rich in vegetation, and surrounded by paddy fields in the North and West and villages in the South and East, Sillalai got its name from a ‘small oil mill’ (Tamil: ‘siria aalai‘) in the area which extracted oil from gingelly seeds, margosa (neem) seeds and the seed of the honey tree or butter tree (ill upai). Over time, ‘siria aalai‘ became Sillalai.

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Kathirai Matha of Sillalai, Jaffna District, Sri Lanka.
Kathirai Matha of Sillalai, Jaffna District, Sri Lanka.

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The villagers (even now), venerated the statue of ‘Kathirai Matha‘ (‘Chair Mother’) – a rare depiction of Mother Mary seated on a chair holding baby Jesus on her lap. The Portuguese who landed at the small port of Sambil, about three to four kilometres west of Sillalai brought the statue to the hamlet.

The villagers took great pains to protect the statue from the Dutch. They moved it from place to place and hid it in deep wells and abandoned huts.

As advised Vaz went to Sillalai. The Moopar (local catechist) provided a walled house for Vaz and John. The villagers built a hut nearby and Vaz used it as the church. From then on, Sillalai became the headquarters of his apostleship. From Sillalai, he visited Jaffnapattinam and the surrounding villages. Wherever he went, the Catholics hid him in their houses.

To avoid suspicion, he performed his apostolate at night with small groups of Catholics in attendance. He would walk from Sillalai to Jaffnapattinam at night to avoid the Dutch.

In Sillalai, if anyone gave him any gift or money he would send that person to his host, the Moopar. He distributed the entire collection of money among the poor.

The “sammanasu swamy”

Joseph Vaz lived a simple life. He always ate sitting on the ground with rice served on a banana leaf. He slept on a grass or bamboo mat spread on the floor. His life of poverty can be summarized in his own words from a letter written to his nephew:

“Be content with what you are provided in the Community; be it in the refectory, or in the infirmary or in the wardrobe or in the cubicle, do not desire anything more by any other means, take the things assigned to you as the best in these places.”

Joseph Vaz a model of chastity. He was a modest, well composed, grave, cautious and reserved person. In the confessional, his eyes were always low and would never raise them to stare at the ladies confessing to him. In a letter to his nephew, Joseph Vaz wrote:

“Grid us Lord with the girdle of purity and extinguish in our loins the fire of lust, so that the virtue of continence and chastity may abide in us”.

The people admired Joseph Vaz. Because of his virtues they called him “sammanasu swami” (Tamil: “சம்மனசு சுவாமி”) meaning the “angelic priest”.

Guided by the catechist, Joseph Vaz traveled throughout the Jaffna peninsula. He found the task of caring for the flock, was a bit burdensome for one priest. On December 14, 1688, Vaz wrote his first letter from Ceylon to the Provost of the Oratory requesting him to send a helper.

At that time, Laurens van Pyl was the Governor of Dutch Ceylon. The Dutch commander of Jaffna region was forcing the people to follow Calvinism. He was annoyed to note many people believed to be apostates of the Catholic Church and enjoyed the favours of the Dutch authorities were no longer frequenting the Calvinist Kirk. Dom Pedro, in particular, was one such person.

The Commander imputed the change in the Catholics of the Jaffna peninsula to the Jesuits of Manapad in South India, who, he believed, had succeeded in coming over to Ceylon in secret.

The Dutch arrested many people they believed to be Catholics. He tortured them to denounce the person or the Jesuit priests responsible for bringing about this situation. The Commander then announced a reward for the head of the Catholic priests. But the faithful Catholics watched over Joseph Vaz.

On Christmas night of 1689, Dutch soldiers surrounded the house where the congregation was celebrating the midnight liturgy with Joseph Vaz administering the sacraments. On entering the house, the soldiers arrested those inside. They desecrated the sacred images and divested the women of their clothes. They rounded up around 300 Catholics that night in and around the neighbourhood. But to their dismay, the priest was not among the prisoners. The soldiers wondered how he could have escaped.

In 1690, Father Andre Freyre, the Jesuit Provincial of Malabar, gave an account of this incident in a letter he wrote from Manapad to Dom Miguel de Almeida, the Portuguese Governor of Goa. He wrote:

“Fr. Joseph Vaz, a Brahmin, who was sent from Goa to take charge of the Christians at Jaffna, discharges his duties with such devotion, that all consider him a saint. He not only looks after the natives but after the Europeans too. Although the heretics search everywhere for him, they can never come upon him, for, like another Proteus, he escapes them under a variety of disguise.”

In the morning, all the arrested people were brought before the Commander of Jaffnapattinam. He let off the women and children. He retained eight rich and influential men, including Dom Pedro and Emmanuel de Silva. He let the others go after imposing heavy fines.

The Commander ordered them to abjure the Catholic Faith or face death. All said that they were ready to die for their faith. Thinking that the sight of torture would denounce their Faith. the Commander ordered Dom Pedro, the youngest among the eight, to be beaten with rods, until he should abjure Catholicism or die under the blows. Dom Pedro bore the torture unflinchingly. When the young man lost consciousness, the Commander ordered his bloody body to be thrown into prison with the other seven. When Dom Pedro regained consciousness, he beseeched his companions to persevere in their Faith with courage, and then died peacefully.

The Commander, then confiscated the properties of Emmanuel de Silva and the six others and condemned them to hard labour for life.

The Commander, then confiscated the properties of Emmanuel de Silva and the six others and condemned them to hard labour for life. He sent them to a fortress, which the Dutch were then restructuring, as labourers. None of them even thought of escaping this torture by renouncing the Faith. Eventually, they all died martyrs. The martyrdom of Dom Pedro and of his seven companions was the most glorious fruit of the apostolate of Joseph Vaz at Jaffna.

Joseph Vaz fled Jaffnapattinam and went deep into the jungle to escape from the Dutch. He crossed to Vanni, the mainland area of Northern Sri Lanka. From there, he reached Puttalam, then, a part of the Kandy kingdom, ruled by King Vimaladharma Surya II, who had ascended the throne in 1687, the same year that Joseph Vaz had entered Ceylon. He was the son of King Rajasimha II (1635  – 1687).

With the help of some Catholics, he continued his apostolate in Puttalam.

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Next → Part  7  – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Puttalam

← Previous: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

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Blessed Joseph Vaz: Part 5 – Travel to Ceylon (Sri Lanka)


Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Map - Goa to Jaffna
Map – Goa to Jaffna

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In March 1686, Joseph Vaz left Goa secretly and set out on foot to go to Ceylon without informing anyone. However, he obtained the blessings of his Prefect and the Cathedral Chapter of Goa.

Father Paulo de Souza, Brother Stephen, accompanied Joseph Vaz along with his loyal domestic servant John.

They traveled to Tellichery where people told them that the Dutch were ever vigilant and might deem Father de Souza to be a European because of his fair complexion. Moreover, Vaz noted that it would not be possible for them to land in Ceylon as a group without arousing suspicion. So, Vaz sent his two companions, Father Paulo de Souza and Brother Stephen back to Kanara.

Vaz proceeded to Cochin (now Kochi) with his servant John carrying a bag that contained sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass.

From Cochin, they traveled on a Moorish ship to Quilon (now Kollam). The ruthless captain of the ship demanded more as fare. Since they had no more money to pay the extra sum, the captain started scolding them. With great patience, they bore the affronts and the insults. The captain then seized their only possession – the bag containing the sacred vestments and other accessories for celebrating Mass. A Christian from Quilon was about to help him, but the Episcopal Governor of Cochin who was there  paid their fare.

In the 17th century, the Portuguese maintained their power in Kerala with their settlements and trade centers. They concentrated mainly on the port towns of Cochin, Calicut, Cannanore, and Quilon. In 1663 due to the Dutch Invasion Portuguese Empire declined. The Jesuits in Kerala transposed their Vaippicotta Seminary to Ambazhakad (Sambalur). The Jesuits started a house of Jesuits, Vidyapeeth (St. Pauls’ College) and a seminary for Christians of St. Thomas.

When Joseph Vaz and John reached the Jesuit College, the Jesuit priests received them cordially. They advised Vaz that if he wanted to enter Ceylon he should put aside his torn, threadbare soutane, and dress like a “coolie”. The Jesuits offered them coarse loincloth like the ones used by the slaves of the Dutch. Vaz humbly accepted their advice and the loincloth.

After reaching the Coromandel Coast, Vaz studied the Tamil language assiduously for that was the language spoken in the Northern part of the Island of Ceylon.

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View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672.  'Tutecoryn' by Philip Baldaeus, from 'Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon', Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)
View of the Dutch port Tuticorin, Coromandel Coast, India in 1672. ‘Tutecoryn’ by Philip Baldaeus, from ‘Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon’, Amsterdam, 1672. (Source: columbia.edu)

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By the end of March 1687, Joseph Vaz and John reached the Coromandel Coastal town of Tuticorin captured by the Dutch in 1658. The harbour in Tuticorin was even then well known as a pearl diving and fishing centre of the Paravar community.

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'Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni' from 'La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.', published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)
‘Pearl fishing on the coast of Tuticorin by Paravars using thoni’ from ‘La galerie agreable du monde. Tome premier des Indes Orientales.’, published by P. van der Aa, Leyden, c. 1725 (Source: columbia.edu)

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The Paravars used the thoni, one of the oldest known indigenous country sea vessels for pearl fishing. The thoni was also used to transport goods and people between India and Ceylon in the Palk Strait. So, Vaz envisaged to board a thoni from Tuticorin to go to Ceylon. But, the town of Tuticorin and the harbour were under the control of the Dutch.

In Tuticorin, Vaz met a Jesuit priest who had been his companion in the College of St. Paul in Goa. On knowing the reason for Vaz’s disguise as a coolie and to maintain the camouflage, the Jesuit priest treated Vaz like a bondservant. Whenever Vaz ventured out he went about disguised as a mendicant.

A hawk-eyed Dutch officer in charge of the harbour area suspected the furtive ways of Vaz. He presumed that, Vaz in disguise, was waiting for the opportunity to travel to Ceylon by sea. He ordered his subordinates, not to allow anyone to embark for Ceylon without his permission. However, the Dutch officer died shortly. The new officer who took charge, not knowing the reason for the order given by his predecessor allowed Joseph Vaz and John to board a thoni that set sail to Ceylon.

The thoni met with a storm and drifted away from the normal course. After several days of drifting, the vessel reached the island of Mannar. Joseph Vaz, John and the others on the vessel were reduced to skeletons for want of food.

There were many Catholics in Mannar, but Joseph Vaz was not aware of this fact. He and John begged to sustain themselves.

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Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)
Painting of a Kattumaram in Sri Lanka (Source: patrickgibbs.com)

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Two months later, Joseph Vaz and John were taken in a kattumaram (catamaran)  by local fishermen to the town of Jaffna, located at the Northern tip of Ceylon.

When Joseph Vaz and John landed in Jaffna, they were famished and almost half dead. Since they needed food and a place to rest, they knocked on many doors, but were chased away by almost all the Tamil households there.  Finally, a woman allowed them to spend the night in a dilapidated hut near her house.

As a result of fatigue, hunger and thirst, Joseph Vaz suffered from an acute form of dysentery. As dysentery often led to epidemics and death at that time, any form of dysentery was much dreaded by the people both in India and Ceylon. When the neighbours saw that Vaz was not even able to walk, they carried him on a litter to the nearby forest. They left the ailing man there exposed to the intemperate weather and to the mercy of the wild animals.

John looked after his master, day and night. During the day, he went to the town and begged for food to feed the sick man. Eventually, John too contracted the disease.

Without any other alternative left for them, they prayed to God and awaited death.

Their faith was rewarded in the form of a lady who had come to the forest to gather firewood. Out of pity, she supplied them daily a bowl of kanji (broth). After some days, thanks to the kind-hearted woman, their health was restored.

However, Joseph Vaz knew that greater trials and tribulations were in store for him on the island.

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Next → Part  6 – The Apostle of Sri Lanka in Jaffnapattinam

← Previous: Part 4: Persecution of Catholics in Ceylon by the Dutch

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A Wedding Video and Sanctity of Marriage.


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Just ask yourself how many times you would have watched a wedding video of another person – once, twice, thrice?

More often, we do not relish watching the wedding videos of relatives and friends, more than once, and that too, by feigning interest and hiding our boredom, merely to keep them happy.

One and a half million views on YouTube
One and a half million views on YouTube

Of late, I watched two wedding video clips of a (Jaffna?) Tamil Hindu couple Dilip and Mohana,  posted on YouTube, with mixed apprehension.

This marriage took place on February 12, 2012 at Sree Maha Mariamman Temple in Singapore. A week later, on February 19, Mohana Rajan, the bride, uploaded two video clips to YouTube.  The first clip shows the groom, Dilip Kumar, entering the wedding hall and the second shows the bride, Mohana Rajan’s entrance.

So far, as of March 19, 2012, the video clip of the entrance made by the groom has had 563,631 views and the video clip of the  bride’s entrance has a record-breaking 1,536,902 views. Above all, a fan page created on Facebook under the name “Dilip Kumar Mohana Rajan” has scored hundreds of likes and many are talking about this wedding.

What is so unique about these clips? To answer this question you must see the clips. Click on the following images to view the videos:

Video #1: Unique Entrance made by the Groom

Dilip Kumar with friends (from the Facebook page "Dilip Kumar Mohana Rajan").
Dilip Kumar with friends (from the Facebook page “Dilip Kumar Mohana Rajan”). Click the image to view video: “Unique Entrance made by the Groom – Karuppu perazhaga”.

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Video # 2: Unique Entrance made by the Bride

Bride Mohana with friends (from the Facebook page "Dilip Kumar Mohana Rajan")
Bride Mohana with friends (from the Facebook page “Dilip Kumar Mohana Rajan”) Click the image to view video: “Unique Entrance made by the Bride”

In an interview given to OLI 96.8FM, Singapore, Mohana Rajan says that she is a Bharatha Natyam dancer and wanted to make her wedding a memorable one, and Dilip Kumar relented to her wish.

These two video clips have produced mixed reactions from viewers. In fact, there are around 144 comments for groom’s entrance and 626 comments for the bride’s entrance on YouTube.

Some praise the clips while those who uphold the sanctity of marriage and wish to follow religious traditions censure them.

One Facebook commentator says,

You guys had a grand fun entrance to your wedding and definitely put on a smile on more than a million faces.. What a blessed way to start your journey of togetherness. Have a blessed married life! (sic) “

Another person comments in YouTube:

Jaffna low caste culture is not considered as Tamil culture. Indian cinema culture destroying pure Jaffna Tamil culture. These kinds of people should be outcasted from society. Ada thuuuuuu. (sic)”

Another comment in YouTube reads:

I really liked the dancing.. just feeling bad that my Tamil culture is extremely ruined. You could have danced in your reception instead. You just forgot that it has a meaning to wear saari and all those traditional stuffs while during the wedding. You didn’t give any meaning to yours instead made it funny. I respect your freedom but think on your own. There is no need to do a Tamil traditional wedding if you don’t believe on it or want to make fun of it. I respect my culture, so do many! (sic)”

You might be intending to ask me what I think about this incident.

Well, I am a Tamil and a Catholic and I believe in the sacrament and sanctity of marriage and wish to uphold the Tamil traditions.  Not only Christians, but all religions agree and preach what I firmly believe.

This couple follows Hinduism, which like Buddhism, is not a religion in the sense, Judaism, Christianity or Islam are. Hinduism like Buddhism is a way of life.

Thousands of years ago Samskaras or sacraments were instituted in Hinduism to bring sanctity and stability to the lives of the people and to integrate their personalities with the society they were born in. The ancient seers and sages, endowed with the sacred knowledge, made it their bounden duty to transform the crude animal that we were, into Homo sapiens, with the help of the Samskaras. In Hindu rituals, life is a cycle. From the birth to death a person undergoes 16 Samskaras; and marriage is one of the most important among them.

The rich, noble heritage of Hindu ethos proclaims that the sacrament of marriage impresses upon a person that earthly life should not be despised; rather it should consciously be accepted and raised to the level of a spiritual existence.

Hindu families live all over the world.  Though some live outside India, they all have strong ties with the Hindu culture and way of life as practiced in India, and feel that they should, on such important occasions in life, such as marriage, perform the Samskara in the traditional Hindu way by availing the rich, noble heritage of Hindu thought, ritual and tradition.

Gatherings of near and dear ones, and reception parties – large or small, most certainly enhance the pleasures of the occasion and the joy of a wedding. However, the Hindu marriage ceremony like the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic, is an ennobling sacrament, and in my humble opinion, it is advisable to perform the marriage rites irrespective of religion in a serene atmosphere without much banal pomp and pageantry.

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